Thursday, September 6, 2012

Korean Vegetarian Delicacies : Bibimbap

My first ever signature Korean dish - Bibimbap

And so I came to Korea with lots of misconception about unavailability of vegetarian food. I can't really be blamed now, can I? I mean, when the whole world, literally, bombards you with questions like "Korea? But how about food? How are you going to manage?" and "God, do they even know what vegetarianism is? They eat dogs, for god's sake!!" and, well....the list  goes on....Like duh...People.....

Just let me get this straight. To all those people out there, listen to this. If there's a will, there's a way! Don't give reasons for something that you choose not to do. Period. For your information, from the time I got to Korea, I hadn't had a single problem getting vegetarian food. Zilch. You don't believe that now, do you? Well, you better do, because that's the honest truth, nothing but the truth! So, how did I manage? See, it's really simple. A problem becomes a problem only when you see it as such!

Hence, the first thing I did, was to find out how to say that in Korean. And I did. In Korean :

a) I'm a vegetarian --> "naanen cheshik juijareyo"

b) I don't eat meat, seafood and eggs --> "naanen gogi, haysanmul, thalgael 

So, which ones do I say at restaurants? Well, I say both!! Let me tell you something. Koreans are very hospitable in nature. They really do love to feed you and provide the best of service.  If you could just speak their language, that is, and tell them exactly what you want.

By reading some helpful posts online, I learned that generally there is a minor misconception about vegetarianism here in Korea. When you say "I'm a vegetarian", you might end up getting floating pieces of egg, or bits of meat in your dish. I thought about this, and realized that the only way to help them understand was my repeating my words twice, from different contexts. And I was right!! It helped!:)

So, here I declare my first ever vegetarian meal in Korea - their signature dish "Bibimbap" which means mixed rice in Korean. Where did I have it? During my trip to Seoul, at the Seoul Metro Train Station!

On the left, is my lip-smacking bibimbap, and my husband's Ramen noodles on the right...
Bibimbap (translated as mixed rice) is actually a very humble, satisfying rice dish with blanched, yet fresh vegetable  (carrots, mushrooms, beans sprouts, turnips) and some raw lettuce, usually topped with meat or egg. Of course, being vegetarian, you could opt not to have it in the dish.

So, what's so special about this simple dish, you may wonder.....Well, it's the generous dollop of spicy red sauce right at the top of the dish! That just lends a completely different experience, you have my word for that!!

Also, it's important to ask for "Dolsot bibimbap" which means "hot plate bibimbap", where the dish is served on a hot plate (as above). Interestingly, Koreans love devouring hot and cold food (where food is, sometimes, mixed with ice, especially in summer). 

So, by using the world "dolsot", you can then be reassured that the dish remains hot throughout your meal. Most Korean main dishes come with lots of side dishes,  Kimchi being a compulsory one. There's also a small bowl of soy soup (again, ask to ensure it's vegetarian), depending on the eatery.

So, what did I think of my Bibimbap? Now, how would a spoonful of hot steaming rice, fresh crunchy vegetable with a dash of traditional Korean hot sauce taste? Absolutely breathtaking, I must say! My first ever Bibimbap was an unforgettable experience. My husband told me that I looked so "contented" throughout the day, bless him:)))). Well, what dya expect?

With my increased confidence in using the language post Bibimbap success, I've ventured into having the same meal in a number of restaurants in Ulsan. But, you know what they say about the first time always being special....and to me, my first Korean dish at the overcrowded Seoul Metro Train station was definitely 'love at first sight". It was perfect. It was timeless. It was heaven. Amen.

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